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The Durham Performing Arts Center, Durham, North Carolina, United States

Wednesday 24 Aug 2011

Theatre venue steals the show

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Direct increase in local economy as area is transformed into cultural hotspot 

The Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) is a 103,000 gross sq ft, 2,800-seat Broadway-style theater, co-developed and designed by Philip Szostak, FAIA, of Szostak Design Inc. DPAC is the largest venue of its kind in the Carolinas and was built for a total project cost of $46M, less than half the price of comparable venues elsewhere in the country.

The theater was designed to accommodate touring theatrical companies, concerts, locally produced stage performances, and serves as the primary stage for the nationally celebrated American Dance Festival. The theater and adjacent urban park has quickly become a catalyst for the revitalization of Durham's central business district, spurring economic development and transforming the city's image as a regional center for culture, the performing arts, and entertainment.

The project is the first phase of a comprehensive urban master plan that reclaims a former industrial brownfield site, bridging an imposing railroad right of way, and reconnecting the newly burgeoning arts and entertainment district to the heart of downtown Durham. New projects stimulated by the presence of DPAC include an eighteen-story county courthouse, a six-story design center, an upscale boutique hotel, and a multi-story, mixed-use residential and office development. According to Durham Mayor William V. "Bill" Bell, DPAC was singularly responsible for "an economic impact of over $11M annually to our community."

Hailed for its aesthetics, crisp acoustics, intimacy of seating and excellent sightlines, DPAC is a skillful marriage of a simply composed, highly efficient performance space and a dramatic, multi-level glass-clad lobby. The house and its support areas are gracefully tucked within the adjoining metropolitan setting. In contrast, the public lobby reaches out to the surrounding urban fabric and is energetically expressed on the theater's three street frontages, accentuating vistas to the historic American Tobacco Campus and the Durham skyline.

Recalling the delicate scrims routinely employed in theatrical productions, the three lobby facades are clad in a thinly drawn curtain wall that features a facile interplay of clear and fritted insulating glass. Two finely detailed staircases that wrap the building's perimeter animate movement up and through the lobby.

Sustainable features include a well-insulated curtain wall, oriented to minimize solar gain and optimize natural daylighting, variable air volume ventilation fans, an underfloor, low-volume displacement air distribution system and enhanced insulation. Integral to the sustainability of the project was the decision to site the building adjacent to downtown Durham, strengthening urban connectivity, encouraging pedestrian access and minimizing parking demands.

DPAC has been the recipient of numerous awards including a 2004 Mid-Atlantic States Region AIA Merit Award, a 2009 North Carolina AIA Honor Award, a 2009 American Woodworking Institute Award of Excellence, and a 2009 Golden Leaf Award from the Durham Appearance Commission. The theater was the 2010 recipient of both the Independent Weekly's Best of Award for Live Theatre and The Herald Sun Reader's Choice Award for Best Entertainment Venue. It is currently listed in the top 50 in Pollstar magazine's Top Worldwide Theater Venues.


Changing the Culture of a Community Through Social Incentives: In 2001, the City of Durham proposed creating a new arts district in a neglected industrial district south of its downtown, requesting proposals from developers for a theater project. Beyond the creation of the theater itself, the city wished to reconnect the down town with adjoining low-income residential districts divided by a midtown rail line and to provide employment opportunities for the residents of these nearby neighborhoods. Specifically, the city requested a workforce training program focused on area minority and women-owned businesses and a program of procurement that ensured local sourcing of labor and materials for a substantial portion of the project. DPAC’s architect, Philip Szostak, FAIA, led a project team that developed a construction development plan that stipulated aggressive targets for minority employment, workforce training and local product and labor sourcing, coupled with a comprehensive program of community outreach and involvement in the process. The project was carefully honed to meet these requirements in both the near and long terms. Monthly community meetings were held throughout the planning process providing input that established targets for community development and workforce employment. The results were notable: 83 construction jobs created for local workers, generating US$3.3M in wages, 19 unskilled workers - 8 qualified as 'at-risk' youth - received job training through the workforce development program, 44% of construction jobs were performed by Durham residents, 20% of all construction wages went to minority contractors, and 15 local full-time jobs were created by DPAC’s first year of operation, generating US$612,000 in new annual wages.


Changing the Culture of a Community Through Economic Development: In 2001, the City of Durham proposed creating a new cultural arts district in a neglected industrial district south of its downtown, requesting proposals from developers for a theater project that would not require any capital funding, capital improvement funding, or operating funds for the life of the building. The city had four goals: 1) To invigorate its central business district, 2) to reconnect metropolitan districts divided by a midtown rail line, 3) to provide employment and economic development for Durham’s citizens and 4) to attract new capital investment. DPAC’s architect, Philip Szostak, FAIA, led a project team that developed a business model, funding the project through a combination of projected revenues, hotel occupancy tax-supported municipal bonds, naming rights sales and grants from philanthropic foundations. The plan would guarantee the capital costs of the project and return an annual share of operating profits to the city. The results of this effort have been notable. In the year ending in June 2010, DPAC exceeded all projections: 320,000 guests attended 175 shows generating gross revenues of $24M and net profit of US$2.9. US$1.2M was returned to Durham under a revenue sharing agreement with the theater's operator negotiated by Mr. Szostak. Local direct spending by visiting performers, crew and patrons was estimated at US$6.1M, including 15,000 additional overnight lodgings. The total annual economic impact of DPAC has been estimated at US$11.7M. Over the next decade, ancillary development including restaurants, retailing and office and residential projects spurred by DPAC is estimated at over US$300M. Numbers aside, the most important contribution of DPAC to Durham has been the transformation of the city’s image. Once viewed as a gritty manufacturing town, Durham is becoming widely recognized as an important regional center for performing arts and culture. Durham Mayor Bill Bell has praised the facility for its contributions to the vitality and economic health of the city, stating: "We've had great performances, great shows and a great facility in terms of the way it looks, the way it feels and the employees that work there. The success is astounding.”

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